Rancho Santa Fe resident’s company horse to run in the Kentucky Derby
By Julie Sarno
A passionate devotion to Thoroughbred racing and a little bit of luck have put Aron Wellman at the pinnacle of the sport less than three years after founding Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. On Saturday, May 3, plans call for Eclipse-owned Danza to run in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Wellman founded Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners in August of 2011. He is president of the company which buys horses and puts together ownership groups. Located in Del Mar, Eclipse also has offices in Springboro, Ohio, where Lee Midkiff, co-founder and Chairman of Eclipse, is based, and Aiken, South Carolina.
This is not Wellman’s first trip to the Kentucky Derby. In 2011, as vice president of Team Valor, Wellman was at Churchill Downs when Animal Kingdom won the Run for the Roses. Owned by Team Valor, Animal Kingdom finished second in the Preakness and sixth in the Belmont, the other legs of racing’s Triple Crown. Shortly after, Wellman struck out on his own.
Though a young-looking 36, Wellman already has spent a lifetime at the racetrack. His family spent summer vacations in Del Mar where they still own a condominium. Wellman’s parents bred and owned Thoroughbreds. His father, Michael, was friends with Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker who, upon retiring from the saddle, became a trainer. As a child, Wellman spent summers mucking out stalls for Shoemaker and trainer Jude Feld, who was stabled near by. As Wellman grew and became stronger, he was permitted to walk hots (cooling out hot horses after exercise). Then he became a groom – anything to be around the racetrack and the horses he loved.
After graduating from University of California at Santa Barbara, Wellman went to Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. He became a litigator and lived in Los Angeles and worked in Orange County. Finally, the siren call of the track became too strong and he went to work for Team Valor, founded by Barry Irwin. With his knowledge and law degree, Wellman advanced quickly.
When he left Team Valor and founded Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, his goal was to allow participants to experience racing at the highest level, in graded stakes races.
“We want to be Saturday players,” said Wellman. “And the ultimate Saturday is the first Saturday in May.”
On the first Saturday in May, Eclipse hopes to have Danza in the Derby and as many as four other runners competing in major races at Churchill Downs. Capo Bastone, a veteran campaigner in California and on the East Coast is aiming for the G2 Churchill Downs and Craftsman for the $250,000 G2 American Turf. Bajan is pointing for the G3 Eight Belles and No Surrender for an allowance race.
Stable star Danza was sired by Street Boss. The colt was named for actor Tony Danza, best known for his role in the sitcom “Who’s the Boss?”, which ran from 1984-92. Danza was purchased as a yearling for $105,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale in Lexington, Kentucky. At the time, the amount was more than twice what Wellman had paid for his other yearling purchases.
Wellman sent the colt to Ocala, Florida, for early preparation and then to New York to trainer Todd Pletcher. Danza broke his maiden in his first start, July 12, 2013, at Belmont Park. A month later, he was 3rd in the G2 Saratoga Special. Danza finished third in an allowance race before surprising as the 41-1 longshot winner of the $1 Million Arkansas Derby, a G1 race and key prep race for Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Danza has two wins from four career starts and earnings of $666,428.
“We were hoping that Danza would outrun his odds and prove that he could compete,” said Wellman from his Del Mar office. Instead the colt dominated the eight-horse field and won by 4 3/4 lengths. Danza was shipped to Churchill Downs to acclimate and train the day after the Arkansas Derby. Jockey Joe Bravo again will handle the riding assignment.
Eclipse currently has 35 horses. Wellman selects all the horses aided by longtime friend and mentor Eddie Delahoussaye, a retired Hall of Fame jockey. Wellman noted, “We both look at yearlings, but at the end of the day all of the acquisitions are on my shoulders. We work distinct from one another but it’s always good to have Eddie’s stamp of approval.”
California runners are trained by Paddy Gallagher, former assistant to Shoemaker and mentor to Wellman. Trainers Simon Callaghan, Marty Jones and Michael McCarthy also train for Eclipse. Two-year-olds are with McCarthy, who is training in California after being the primary assistant to Pletcher on the East Coast.
Wellman makes his home in Whispering Palms (Rancho Santa Fe). His wife, Talya, grew up in San Diego and graduated from La Jolla High School. The couple has two children, 6-year-old Sadie and 2-year-old Jack.
In 2013, Eclipse entered into a partnership agreement with Dogwood Stable, the oldest and most respected name in group Thoroughbred ownership. While each retains separate identities, they share some key staff.
Wellman strives to provide the partners with “a G1 experience on the track and off the track,” keeping in constant communication with owners, giving updates, arranging barn visits and accommodations at the races. Eclipse already has four Grade 1 winners: Danza, Byrama (G1 Vanity at Hollywood Park), In Lingerie (G1 Spinster at Keeneland) and Capo Bastone (G1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga).
“We have partners all over the country,” said Wellman. “The closer we can make them feel to their horses, the better. We want them to experience the sport at a prestige level.”